Optical Brighteners – The Illusion of Whiter
Are your white clothes really whiter after you wash them? Most laundry detergents contain optical brighteners, which are chemicals that trick your sensory perception. Your clothes are not really whiter and brighter, you only think they are. Optical brighteners leave a residue of molecules that reflect ultraviolet light from your clothing (1-3). The detergents are not providing a deeper clean to brighten fabrics; they are leaving yet another layer of chemicals to give the appearance of vivid color.
The brighteners stick to more than just your clothes. While you are working, relaxing, eating and sleeping, the chemical coating on your clothes and bedding is rubbing against your skin. Due to the ultraviolet reactive molecules, your skin can become photosensitive and easily burn from exposure to sunlight. Increased exposure to ultraviolet rays increases your risk for skin cancer, which is only one of the many reasons to avoid optical brighteners (7).
People with sensitive skin often experience irritation and develop skin rashes from optical brighteners. Because many people assume this is some sort of allergy, they opt for detergents that market “hypo-allergenic” formulas. The problem with such detergents is that many of them actually contain ingredients to mask undesirable chemical odors.
In addition to the irritation that optical brighteners may cause your skin, they harm the life within our waterways. Such toxic chemicals can change the physical properties of small organisms and poison fish. As they do not readily biodegrade, their effects are long lasting within our environment (4-6).
Natural cotton is not fluorescent white, therefore we believe that optical brighteners are unnecessary. At SmartKlean, we choose not to use them in our laundry ball because they raise the threat of harm to the environment and health. There are many natural and inexpensive alternatives to whiten fabrics without the need to add a film of toxins to your laundry. See our tips on How to Whiten Your Laundry without Bleach or Optical Brighteners.
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- Kramer J B, Canonica S, Hoigne J, Kaschig J. Degradation of Fluorescent Whitening Agents in Sunlit Natural Waters. Environmental Science & Technology 1996: 30: 2227-2234.
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